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Archive for December, 2007

Five months.

How did the time go by?

In the book “Stillborn: the Invisible Death” one woman wrote that after your baby dies, all that you can look for to help the healing is Time. But sometimes, it seems as if Time has stood still.

What a stabbing statement. I can really feel her pain, and totally relate to that feeling of seeming to be at the same place after such a long time. Sinking into the quick sand of time and grief. Trying to move ahead, and perhaps indeed moving along, and then suddenly, in a swift moment, that grief and pain hit you again and it seems you have never moved. The wound is fresh open and bleeding again and you again wonder if indeed death has occurred and if you really lost a child to Life, and  you re-experience, all over again, that fateful day, and roll and tumble in that angry ocean of emotions again.

And then, you start over.

Five months.

Am I really still at the same place? Not really. Actually, absolutely not. Especially if you get philosophical.  No one thing in the universe is ever the same. This is what Impermanence is about. Nothing is forever. Not even pain, and grief, and being hurt. So, there is Hope. So things will die, rot, decay, fade away, change. But it also means we are never forever grieved and hurt. We can heal. There is Hope. Impermanence is a beautiful thing. Although you wish for a double-standard: let my loved ones remain with me forever; let us always be so happy, young and content; but let all the bad things past.

But that is not how it works. It’s a package deal. You take everything.

And from the Buddhist point of view, that is why we suffer- because we do not realize and accept that it is a package deal. We cling on to the good, refusing to see that there is no good without the bad and evil. So when we experience the bad and evil, we heave and weep and curse and swear, not realizing that without the good, we would never realize the evil and darkness that we experience.

All such things, and things that I am reading in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “No death, no fear” right now,  helps me understand many things. Helps me come to terms. Yet I also feel resistance. Many of these things are really not difficult to understand on an intellectual level. Not at all. There are no complicated equations and formulas or technical terms. Thich Nhat Hanh explains them all in simple words and with straight-forward examples. You can find the Truth, and deep understanding, in a flower. The secret is to not just understand it with your mind but to totally give in to the Truth with the whole of your Self, your heart, your soul. I am working on that right now. (But my ego keeps wanting to come on the ride. That is the problem. Ego.)

And so, five months after, I am still reeling. And I am not really surprised, since I am in no way enlightened.

The other day R got off the phone with his grandma and said, “Actually, she asked about you. Asked how you are doing…. if you are over it…” And I immediately hissed, “What do you mean over it? Over what exactly? It’s only been five months, what is she expecting?” This rudeness, insolence, and lack of appreciation for a concern that comes from an elder. I asked R what he replied and he reported saying that I am better and that Time will help.

Yes…. “Time will help.” The cliche that everyone uses and makes my hair stand. I am not sure why. I know there is truth in it but I refuse to accept it. And I think it is because I do not wish to believe that I will ever be over it.

I am afraid, when I am “better”, then I will forget. Forget Ferdinand, my son. Forget that he was once a very vital part of me; throbbing inside, curled up inside, kicking and squirming inside. The joy he brought; the beauty he attracted to me; the sorrow of having to let him go. Yes, even though I know this scar is so deeply branded there is no way it is going to vanish, I am actually afraid that I will forget. Or perhaps, I am afraid that others will think that I forgot! That is so unthinkable… …

And, like how some other women planning to try again are afraid that when they try to conceive, and succeed, then people will think that they are “over it”, and cease to care; and they will forget about her child who died; I am afraid too. They are happy that friends and family rejoice over the new baby that is coming, and get excited, but they also feel sad that it has to overshadow the loss, that is still there, and never gone. They wish others will still remember and say the demised baby’s name.

Sigh.

Impermanence is right. I know this blog will also change…. as we prepare to try again, perhaps in a few months, I have contemplated if I should document that journey here. I did not want to because I do not feel like keeping three separate blogs, and frankly, I cannot see myself going through another pregnancy with Ferdinand’s spirit and memories absent. But I admit it also feels somewhat wrong to be documenting a different pregnancy here- ditto the feelings of the other women one paragraph ago. It is as if I invade this sacred space if I write about another pregnancy that is not him. Yet, how can this new pregnancy not be Ferdinand? It may well be his soul again. And, I remind myself that I wanted to read a blog like this, about what happened; and how people feel thereafter– the grief, the hurt, the finding joy again; the hope, the healing, the hurting again; the lingering pain, and, of course- do they ever get pregnant again, and what is the outcome? I wanted to read something like this. So I write this. So I decided I will continue my journey here. It may kind of change the nature of this blog, but only on the surface. I know deeply, and within, that it is something I cannot forcibly separate.

This is interesting because in the beginning of “No death, no fear” (I am still working on this book. Simple writing, deep wisdom. I am going to blog about this when I am done reading.) Thich Nhat Hanh shared that before he was born, his mother had a miscarriage. And he asked his mother, “Am I me? Or am I my brother?” This book talks about no birth, no death; no coming, no going; not the same, and not different; no being, and no not-being. It is very intriguing to me. Because I start to see all the connections. I see Ferdinand in my children and I will see Ferdinand in the next child. He was always here and will always be.

Even if it is futile to wish, I still wish. I still wish Ferdinand is here. I still wish he had not died. It is because I am selfish. I wish I did not have to go through that pain. I wish we are still not reeling and still trying to function normally, after these five months. It may have been the better for him, but selfishly, and solely for me, I wish he had not died. I yearn to have him to hold and to nurse and to love. The last days I walk around with a heavy heart, tears threatening to drown the world, but I could not summon the tears to come. They could not come. I still clench my fists and wish that it. did. not happen.

But it did, and perhaps, for good? Dare I say this? For good?!

I know I have learned deep lessons. Because I hurt like hell, I also laugh more deeply.  We are even closer as a family. But to think of the price tag, I hate. Would I not have learned all these if Ferdinand had not died? I truly, humbly think I could have. This price was not fair, and I did not have the chance to negotiate.

But, though it often feels as if he is gone, he is not. Still here. Had always been, and always will. Him in me, and me in him; till the end of eternity.

Five months. Still reeling; still learning; still hurting; still walking.

I love you, Ferdinand.You are never forgotten; you know that.

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For some reason I felt I have to read something like this before we decide to try again. Although, for R, this is not “again”. He said this will be our first and last try. Our pregnancies have never been results of conscientiously trying to procreate. It was always a surprise bonus to the pleasure of being nice to each other. And if (and I cannot believe that I can be sitting and typing these following words) for some reason it does not result in a viable and living outcome (I am thinking the words “sticky baby” used often on the loss forums) then this is it.

It is like coming full circle in a very strange sort of way. First pregnancy: worried and paranoid that anything can happen to the baby. Scared about everything. Uncertain that I could successfully breastfeed.  Second pregnancy:somewhat detached and relaxed; knowing that I can do it, my body can do it. Confident of outcome. Third pregnancy: totally reveled in pregnancy; had fun; confident and cocky that my body can birth a healthy baby. Ferdinand died. And I know the next time, if any, will be fraught with worries, nerves, paranoia, roller-coaster emotions, and more worries till the end of my life. I am not sure it is full circle. Maybe more like my life took a divergent path and it is going to just be different. But perhaps it was meant to be like this.

This book is co-authored by Ann Douglas and John R. Sussman, M.D.. Douglas have suffered losses herself but subsequently had a healthy baby. She wanted to write a book that focussed on the unique challenges of planning another pregnancy after one has suffered a loss, whether it was a miscarriage, stillbirth, perinatal loss or infant loss. I quote, “I just couldn’t relate to mainstream pregnancy books that assume that the biggest crisis you’re facing in your pregnancy is whether the Winnie the Pooh wallpaper you ordered will arrive before the baby. I wanted a book that understood that my biggest concern was whether or not I’d end up with a healthy baby in my arms.”  And Sussman, himself an obstetrician, wanted a book that would address the types of concerns expressed by the couples he had met in his practice; and was motivated by the pain he had to share with so many couples who were excited and happy about their impending birth just days, hours, or minutes before. Until their world came crashing down, and then they try to build it all up again.
This is a good book. Much needed. Well executed. Even handed. Compassionate. Realistic. Do not mince words but not blunt and blatant. It presents the known causes and latest information to the reasons for miscarriages, stillbirths and infant loss. After presenting the facts, the book goes on to discuss about being emotionally ready for another pregnancy, and how to prepare for one.  And unfortunately, some couples do experience fertility issues after a loss, so there is also a chapter that deals with that in the book. The book then goes on to detail how one may feel about another pregnancy; making choices; prenatal testing (pros and cons); coping; preparing for the birth, and life after baby.

Stillbirths occur in about 1 percent of all pregnancies. About 60 percent of stillbirths have no known reasons, and for the remaining forty percent, the eight main causes are: chromosomal abnormalities; maternal health problems (diabetes, epilepsy, hypertension, kidney disease, liver disease, lung disease, parathyroid disease, sickle cell disease, and preeclampsia) ; infection; placental problems; problems with uterus; umbilical cord problems; problems arising from a multiple pregnancy and intrapartum death (fetal death that occurs during labor).

I am not sure where we fall in. The doctor said viral infection, but the pathological report did not find any viral inclusions, but they do not always find that viral inclusion. the placenta certainly did not look right. But we were told such a placenta usually belongs to someone who smokes a lot or who uses drugs. I do not smoke or use drugs. Ferdinand was “normal-looking” as stated in the report. The cord looked fine. So what’s the deal? I feel we are not in the 60 percent, but where in the 40 percent are we? Maybe it was really a viral infection that we did not catch? Or maybe Ferdinand did have issues with his kidneys that we did not catch, for some reason. I don’t know. And I really, really, want to know.

I like all the information that this book has to present.  And all the more because it is presented in an even manner that a layman can understand. The chapter on prenatal testing does a good job of detailing all the tests out there and the pros and cons, and why one should consider, and why some tests are only going to create more worries, that may not have been necessary. The book also has a list of questions one could think to ask the potential caregiver. It explores many concerns that a couple would have, like when to try again (taking into consideration the body’s healing time; one’s emotional state, and also the due date/birth date or death anniversary of the demised baby); whether to use the same provide; whether to use the same hospital/same room; the support and so on.

The book has a good sprinkling of quotes from couples who have been through it all and that gives good flesh to the book.

Of course, this book also squarely looks at you in the eyes and tells you that even if you see the double-pink line, and even if you do all you can to make sure everything is right, you have no guarantee. If your children asks, “Will this baby die too?”, you can only tell them you will do your best to ensure that the baby is born healthy; you cannot tell them that this baby will definitely be born living and healthy. Yes, reading this book, you know that some people do not suffer a loss just once. But twice, or even more. It makes you scared to death; it makes you angry. But it also makes you determined, in some sense. Some days I see a mental image of myself wagging a warning finger at Fate, saying, “Don’t try me!” Even though it seems the Universe is ruled by randomness, you know there must also be a rhythm, and therefore there is justice. I know now why I always feel like crying when I see snow. Not because I get to see it so seldom, having grown up in the tropics, but because deep inside, I have a sense that Nature is still ok, it can still snow, the rhythm is still there. That silent snowing is an unworded message to us that things are still ok, as of now. In “Swallowed by a Snake” the author wrote of why when a child dies it creates so much pain. It is because things have occurred out of order, and there is chaos. Children are not supposed to die before their parents do, and therefore when that happens, people reel from the pain of that chaos. It has been chaos for me. Very bad chaos. And I am looking for that order.

This book gives me a good idea what to expect for the next round. It is full of great advice, from diet to planning to mental and emotional preparation. When I checked, our library did not have this book so I put in a request for them to purchase it. In the comments section I wrote, “Every library should have a resource like this.” and after reading it, I feel that way even more.

***********************

Very soon after Ferdinand died, R said we will have another one. But now that we start considering, I think he is having cold feet.

Me too.

I just cannot expel the thought of having another infant loss from my head. It is a horrible feeling to experience; a terrible thought to even consider. We have never been in such a place before. This fear, this helplessness, this unknown. I am not sure if I can make through another pregnancy, and birth with sanity.

And how crazy is it to sit and decide if I should be attached to this next baby (if there is one)? Is this something to decide? Does it not come natural? I read of husbands who remain undetached until after baby is born and I have this feeling that R may be doing this. Can I blame him? I can’t. We are still reeling from the pain of Ferdinand’s death. we are still shocked. And I am still in denial. Lately Sophia keeps telling me, “Mummy, I am sad that Ferdinand is dead.” and I sit on the toilet and think, “I do not have a dead child. Do i really have a child who died?” I look down on my wrinkled belly and I feel like screaming from the top of my roof. I hate it when I went for my physical check and the nurse nonchalently asks, “Married? Children? How many?” I said, “Three. Two living.” And she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry! We lost one too.” Then she turned back and look at her computer screen and click and click and click. What the hell is she clicking on? I did not ask about her loss. I was selfishly thinking of mine only.

I feel as if I live in a different world now. Different planet. All women with normal pregnancies and normal births and healthy living children are on the other planet. I am standing on a different one. Bare, gloomy, lonely. And I stand at the edge of my planet and look out to the other one. Sometimes I feel I have chains to my ankles and I am imprisoned to live here forever. No salvation.No redemption. Doomed to pain and sorrow…. and more deaths. I do not know why I think this. Some days I cannot summon even a shred of hope in me. And all bravery seeps out of me. I just want to turn into a tree and dig my roots somewhere and just let it be. And not talk anymore. Stop the babbling. Until one day I die and rot and fall to the ground and return to earth. Let the wind scatter my dead body and let this story blow away with the wind and be forgotten. Some days I really just cannot take it anymore, and I just want to stop breathing.

So, reading this book was not enough. Armed with knowledge and facts and with information is not sufficient. Just tears will not suffice. Even Hope is not going to make it happen. Only if I walk into the future, boldly (if quivering as well), armed with facts, and ideas and hopes and dreams; then maybe, maybe, I can know what the outcome can be. Even if I curse this journey, this road that offers no alternatives, i know if I decide to try again, there is no other way. Someone say when you run away from suffering you run right into it. Oh, it makes me laugh painfully and cry to hear a thing like this. Because this is true. Winston Churchill said, “If you find yourself in Hell, keep going.” So I keep going.

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The cover of this book just makes your heart stop. And bleed. Very dark maroon cover, with just the big word “STILLBORN” in a simple font right at the top. The font color is kind of a yellow-orange, a bit like the color of the sky when the sun is starting to only peep out over the horizon. Then the words “THE INVISIBLE DEATH” all in upper case again, just below the alphabet “O” of the word “Stillborn”. In the middle is a blank of just the maroon color, and then right at the bottom of the cover is the names of the authors: John DeFrain, with Leona Martens, Jan Stork and Warren Stork.

Written in 1986, 21 years ago, this book endeavors to shed light on what happens to parents who experience stillbirths. It is based on a study of these parents, who answered some fifty questions, related to their experience- what people had done for them, their reactions, people’s reactions; impact of people’s words and actions; what thoughts they had; suicide attempts or not, and why, and why not; how was the family affected as a whole, etc.

This book does not really provide answers. It wanted to put the focus on an event not often in the limelight and seldom studied. It wanted to study the impact of stillbirths on parents, on the marital partnership, how people cope and how people heal. There were a lot of quoted responses in the book.

Having already read some literature with regard to stillbirths and grieving, reading this book at this point was not particularly helpful for me. It was gratifying to see a book devoted to stillbirths though. Some of the responses quoted resonated with me; while others shocked me. After the shock, I realize it was because those words came from a place of deep pain. I could not agree with some of the things said but I am very sure there are many others who also cannot agree with the things that I have to say; or with things that I choose to do. We all have our own histories, and we all are individuals and have our own experiences, and perceptions, feelings and reactions.

And what was found in the book about what can be done to help grieving parents does not differ much from other books. In an event like this, it is just hard. But the same things help, as listed in an appendix at the end of the book: giving time and continued support; loving them and trying to understand their sadness, devastation and need; hugging; validating the existence of the baby; giving them the time to heal; understanding that even after they heal, there will always be a tender scar.

I think this book would have been useful perhaps at the beginning, when one seeks validation for one’s experiences, and to read the words of those who had walked the same journey; to know that one is not alone. Parents who participated in this study had suffered a loss ranging from a few months ago to forty years ago. All were gratified to have this opportunity to voice their heartfelt feelings on the event. Some were so glad that someone would just allow them to talk about it.

It may not have been particularly useful for me but I can imagine what relief some parents must have felt to hold this book in their hands. To know that they are not alone and that what they felt was not insane at all. The effort and motivation is truly a noble one.

Twenty-one years later, stillbirths still happen; the pain will never change. But it does seem hospitals are handling such events better and the bereaved parents are given better considerations, and support for them begins before they leave the hospitals. I am thankful for all the individuals who have made effort to help make the experience a little less painful for the bereaved.

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Dear Ferdinand,

at the celebration dinner D gave me this sock that she knitted. It is for our tree. Later I learned that she used that same yarn to knit socks for herself and she said every time she wears those socks she will be thinking of you.

  I sat and rubbed my fingers over the sock after she gave it to me. Trying to feel how it would have been like to hold your little foot and rub it. Actually, no, you don’t have a little foot. Like your sisters, you have long feet too. And I love to grab my babies’ feet and hold them and squeeze them. I still do that to Sophia’s feet at night when it is cold. I just wish I can squeeze yours right now.

  And M gave me this. On it are the words “Always  in our hearts.” I showed it to the girls  before  I hung it on the tree and the girls argued over who gets to hang it. I said I will hang it but we can all hold it and say something to Ferdinand before I do so. Val said, “I love you Ferdinand!” and Sophia asked, “Are you ok, Ferdinand?” Are you ok? Are you?! Lately she keeps telling me “I am sad that Ferdinand is dead.” Sometimes these words are really hard to hear.

I am going to have a box for putting your ornaments. I thought of whether your sisters would want to have them when they are grown up and have their own tree. And then I thought, one day when i am dead they will find the box and then they will decide for themselves. It really does not matter; you are truly always in our hearts.

Love you,

mama

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The other day I told R, “I think Sophia is experiencing delayed grief.”

I’m not sure if the grief experts have such a term. I guess they do. But it was just something that came to my mind.

In the beginning, when we knew Ferdinand had died, and we told the girls, Valerie immediately plunged into grieving. She cried her heart out and repeated that “It is the saddest thing in this world that our baby died!” but she also rebounded quickly and then she went through cycles of intense missing and totally accepting that she has a baby brother that is not physically with us but is a star. Sometimes she said he is the sun. In the beginning when I was crying a lot, she would come to me silently and hug me; she would not say a thing, and she would not pull away until I am done. She mothered me.

Whereas Sophia, she seemed puzzled. Did not understand that Ferdi “died”. When they came to the hospital to see him, and he was bundled up and wearing a cap, and he did not move; she could not understand. She asked to see his hands, his fingers, his toes, and his tongue; it seemed she was not sure this was truly a baby, because probably to her a baby should be wriggling and moving his fingers, sticking his tongue out, and kicking his feet. She seemed detached and we thought the concept of death was too abstract for her. Thereafter she would say things like “Your baby had died.” as if it was my thing to deal with, she was out of the matter. She seemed to be more concerned with the idea of “death”; drew a lot of pictures of dying things; played a lot of games in which things and people die, and she will say “It is ok. She is dead, but it’s ok.”

But in the past few weeks, it seems she has, slowly, and in her own way, came to understand the idea of “death” and it started to sink in that the baby we had been waiting for would never be here. She started telling me that she missed Ferdinand, and would cry about not having a baby brother to play with. She also started to make things for Ferdinand.

Last Friday while I was in the laundry room digging around and preparing to go for the winter Solstice celebration, she appeared at the door and spoke to me clearly, “Mummy, I am feeling sad.” I thought she had a fight with her sister over those metallic pencils that they were using to draw on black paper. So I asked her, “What happened?” and she told me, “Because Ferdinand is dead.” I immediately took her in my arms and hugged her tightly and tears began to flow out of my eyes because she spoke exactly what my heart felt. I told her, “I am sad too.” and we hugged for a very long time. She did not cry but rested her cheek on my shoulder while I stroked her back and swayed back and forth.

That night after the Solstice drumming, Val told me Ferdinand was there. She said we need to give three cheers to Ferdinand because he helped her. She explained she was not sure how to do the drumming but Ferdinand was there to help and support her and she had an awesome time. Lately she will talk about him a lot, but with happiness. She dances with him and tells us often that Ferdinand is just right here.

I guess, as time goes on, Val and Sophia will process Ferdinand’s brief (physical) presence with us, and his death in different ways and some things will come back in cycles. It will always be a part of their lives and they will learn to live with it until it is like wearing a comfy old sweater. I wish they do not have to do this, but they are doing it, and with mighty grace.

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T shared the following two beautiful and touching poems with me. I will add them to the Poems page but wanted to post here because I wanted to mention that the first poem was read at her son Kevin’s tree planting on his first birthday. Mothers of stillborns want their children remembered. Kevin is remembered. I never met him, never knew him, but he had touched my life.

 

Little Snowdrop
– Author Unknown
The world may never notice

If a Snowdrop doesn’t bloom,
Or even pause to wonder

If the petals fall too soon.
But every life that ever forms,

Or ever comes to be,
Touches the world in some small way

For all eternity.
The little one we long for

Was swiftly here and gone.
But the love that was then planted

Is a light that still shines on.
And though our arms are empty,

Our hearts know what to do.
Every beating of our hearts

Says that we love you.

 

His Journey’s Just Begun
Don’t think of him as gone away-
his journey’s just begun,
life holds so many facets-
this earth is only one.

Just think of him as resting
from the sorrows and the tears
in a place of warmth and comfort
where there are no days and years.

Think how he must be wishing
that we could know today
how nothing but our sadness
can really pass away.
And think of him as living
in the hearts of those he touched…
for nothing loved is ever lost-
and he was loved so much.
E. Brenneman

 

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Got an email from T yesterday. She apologized for not being “here”; her father died about two months ago. And she is barely functional.

No, I did not know what to say. I did not have the perfect words. There are no perfect words. I wish I have that magic balm that I can soothe over her heart, but I do not (!!!).

What can I do, except to think and pray and hold her in my thoughts.

And then another T, an online friend I never met either.  She said, her baby’s kidneys seemed enlarged. Too big to continue normal prenatal care. She is 24 weeks old now, and 1.7 pounds, she said. Her amniotic fluids are getting low; although, she said, with her previous two pregnancies, she had low levels of amniotic fluids too. Still, she said, she is processing some things in her head already. She sounded very, very calm, and strong in her email. She has very strong faith, and she believes only He will know what is best and she shall accept. Everything is still unknown. There is of course, still Hope.

Still.

Still!!

This was still too painful to read and process and accept. I thought of Ferdinand. I thought of his dry birth. No more fluids…. I thought of T, how she is so strong, and I imagine how she must look, and how her heart is throbbing as she tries to process it all.  I closed my eyes, and then I opened them to look at the screen, my fingers on the keyboard, trying to formulate the words I am going to type to her. I had to do that many times, and also clenching my fists, and wiping my tears, and summoning Hope. I read over and over the name of her baby girl on the screen, willing only the Good to happen. In my head I hear myself saying, “Ferdinand. This cannot happen. Do you hear me? This cannot happen.” It is so strange how I seemed to have endowed upon him prowess to make things right. Because he chose to leave does not mean he has the power to exert will over everyone else. But, right at the moment, he was the closest to the Mystery that I could reach out to.

I do not remember how many more deep breaths I had to draw before I finally type a simple line to T. There are just no words. All I could do was to pray in my own way, and to hold her and her little baby girl from afar.

What did others think… this feeling of helplessness. This having to just grit one’s teeth in frustration of not being able to do something. Not having the power to make things good again.

No matter how deeply I understand, or think I have come to understand, Death, and its place in Life, my heart still aches. I cannot calmly just say, “And so it is.” No, my heart still weeps and my body aches all over, and my world darkens and nothing is right. I know we all have our journeys, and we all have darknesses, and we will all have losses. But it is not so easy to always accept it with Grace, without feeling anger, and hurt, and fear and despair.

In the end, this is what we are made of, right? Our pains and sorrows and joys, mixed in with other people’s pains, and sorrows and joys, that we cross paths with. We laugh, we cry, we hurt, we heal. I feel I see life so much more in circles and spirals these days, versus it just being a straight line.

And I still feel heavy. Heavy with sadness; heavy with the Hope that wants to lift and take off.

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